By the end of the year, research firm eMarketer estimates that tablet sales will nearly triple, from about 16 million in 2010 to 43 million in 2011. Apple is expected to win over most of the market, but a growing number of rivals will be hot on its heels.
"This is the year of the tablet," said Lance Ulanoff, editor-in-chief of PCMag.com.
While the devices may have been "incubating" last year, this is really the year that they will hit the market in full force, he said.
The recently-announced iPad 2 may be a very tempting option, but a number of interesting competitors are on the horizon.
"So much is coming out in the next four to five months, it might actually be worth stepping back and waiting," he said. "See what the iPad 2 is like, start to look around. ... You can touch them and make a considered choice."
Most of Apple's biggest rivals won't go on sale for a few months, but while you wait to test them out you can read about five below.
Just released this week, Motorola's Xoom is widely considered to be the iPad's closest rival. It's the first tablet to use Google's Honeycomb Android operating system and early reviews say the tablet is impressive.
With a 10.1-inch screen, it's slightly bigger than Apple's tablet and, at 1.6 pounds, it's slightly heavier than the 1.3-pound iPad 2. It includes a front-facing Web cam for video chatting as well as a 5-megapixel camera for picture-taking.
The Xoom can be used for gaming, Web surfing, reading, movie-watching, video editing and social networking. Similar to the iPad, the battery can handle about nine hours of browsing over a 3G network and 10 hours over Wi-Fi.
Though it shares many of the iPad's features, the Xoom has its advantages. It supports Adobe Flash, it includes a USB connectivity port and (if you're willing to mail your device to Motorola and part with it for six days) Motorola and Verizon are offering a free upgrade to Verizon's high-speed 4G LTE network.
Cost: $599.99 for a 3G-enabled device from Verizon Wireless with two-year contract; $799.99 for a 3G-enabled device without a plan; Wi-Fi-only version to be offered later at a price to be determined.
Availability: On sale now.
Samsung's Galaxy Tab
When the Galaxy Tab hit the market last November, it launched to rave reviews.
The 7-inch touch screen tablet runs off Google's Android system, is 13.4 oz. and has a battery that supports seven hours of continuous video playback time. It includes front- and rear-facing cameras and supports 3G, Wi-Fi and BlueTooth connectivity. The Galaxy Tab can record video, play music and video and be used for a wide range of activities (Web surfing, gaming, social networking, e-mailing, etc.).
The smaller screen may be a drawback for some, but at a mobile conference in February, Samsung demonstrated a 10.1-inch version of the Galaxy Tab that weighs in around 1.3 pounds.
The company did not say when it would be available in the U.S. or what it would cost.
Cost: $299 for 7-inch Galaxy Tab with no contract; $299 for 7-inch Galaxy Tab with a two-year contract with Verizon or Sprint; $199 for 7-inch Galaxy Tab with a two-year contract and mail-in rebate from T-Mobile.
Availability: On sale now. (7-inch device only)
Research in Motion's Playbook
"Crackberry addicts" already comfortable with Research in Motion's BlackBerry may be drawn to the company's upcoming PlayBook tablet.
According to the popular tech blog Boy Genius Report, Research in Motion (RIM) could launch its buzzed-about device in retail locations across the country April 10.
While the price is not yet public, in November, the company said it would sell the device for less than $500.
The Playbook is expected to feature a 7-inch screen and weigh 0.9 pounds. Like other competitive tablets, it will feature a micro USB port, two cameras and 3G, BlueTooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.
For those looking for entertainment, the device will enable gaming, Web surfing, communicating and more. But it offers professional customers one unique feature: the ability to pair with a BlackBerry. According to RIM, corporate clients will be able easily and securely to share contacts, e-mails and other information between devices.
Cost: Less than $500.
Availability: Expected to go on sale in the first quarter of this year.
For those caught up in the 3-D craze, the G-Slate from T-Mobile and LG might be worth checking out.
In February, the companies said the Honeycomb-powered tablet would hit the market this spring and would be able to shoot 3-D video.
In addition to the 3-D camera, the G-Slate also will have a front-facing camera for video chats and a rear-facing camera for picture-taking. G-Slate owners also will get a pair of red-blue 3-D glasses so that they can view the video as they shoot.
The new tablet is expected to feature an 8.9-inch screen and will be able to run on a 4G network.
Availability: Expected to go on sale this spring.
If you were once a fan of the Palm Pre or Pixi, Hewlett-Packard's upcoming TouchPad might be an option for you.
The new tablet, which is expected to hit the market this summer, will run on WebOS, the operating system Hewlett-Packard inherited when it bought Palm last year.
The 9.7-inch tablet will be a little more than half an inch thick and weigh about 1.6 pounds. Like other rivals, it will feature a USB port, a camera for video-chatting and 3G, BlueTooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. It will not include a second camera for picture-taking.
Industry watchers expect the device to excel at multi-tasking and work well with HP's wireless printers and smart phones.
Availability: Expected to go on sale this summer.